The Barry Gabbett Era

23 Apr 2018

Reprinted with the kind permission of Supplier Magazine. Written by Philip Ashley, Technology Editor.

Barry Gabbett is first and foremost a family man and this is as evident in the company he built from the ground up as it is to his own extended family.

Nowadays he spends as much time as possible visiting, mowing lawns and doing other jobs for his three children and six grandchildren. It's not that he's retired, in fact he probably never will and he's still got several years to go as a consultant to SCM Australia. The fact is that Barry has always valued people as his greates asset and tells us "Once we're making a dollar, our people are our number one priority". The relationships he has with almost everyone in the supply industry and with his many employees, some of whom have been with Gabbett for over thirty years is a testament to his nature and his regard for everyone he meets.

Barry turned 70 in 2017 but you wouldn't know it. He's got the energy of people much younger and is still sharp as a tack. At work he could be negotiating a deal or packing spare parts but jokes "I'm not always in the loop anymore, a while ago we closed a really big deal and I didn't hear about it for a month. When we became SCM Australia I thought I was at the top but now I'm going backwards". Anyone who's had the pleasure of sitting down with him over a coffee or other beverage will tell you that he's always got a story to tell and there's always a laugh in there somewhere.

Barry grew up in Toowoomba, about an hour and a half west of Brisbane. He's one of eleven children, the fifth son and seventh child . The children were allowed to leave home when they could get an apprenticeship in a trade and Barry left when he was 14 for a positiion as a wood-machinist. His apprenticeship lasted 5 years and he attended a trade school in the carpentry and joinery department. He freely admits "I never had a flair for hands-on craftsmanship and eventually asked myself if this is what I really wanted".

His answer came in the form of a guy in a suit and tie who visited the big joinery firm Barry was working for once a month. The guy would come in, have a look around the factory and then went in to talk to the boss. Barry said "I learnt he was a machinery salesman and thought to myself, what a glorious job; no dirty hands, he looks like he's worth a million dollars and he's driving someone else's car. Of course w know it's not quite like that but at the time it looked good so I left and joined Austral Engineering who was the agent for Wadkin back then". He was employed as
an ‘apprentice’ salesperson for wood machinery and scientific instruments and found himself at the
Bundaberg hospital with no idea what they actually sold.

After a year with Wadkin in Queensland he asked for a move to Sydney. Still a single man but with a girlfriend, Barry stayed with his Aunt for a while and then rented a flat. His dating continued and he would often leave Sydney Friday night, drive up to Toowoomba and back again Sunday. To help get ahead Barry would make speaker boxes in the evening and work in a furniture factory on Saturday mornings. After five years or so Barry became sales manager, married Elaine and a year or so later started out with his own business. They’d bought a three-bedroom fibre-cement house in Baulkham Hills and Barry recalls drilling a hole in the floor to get the phone downstairs. He got a desk from somewhere and started calling people on the phone.

He says “I thought I was getting a few thousand for long service but I ended up with only a few hundred dollars. I was quite a shock but we worked hard and got lucky. A few large joinery companies were closing down at the time and I managed to buy some machinery and sell it quickly. It was luck but looking back I found that the harder I worked, the luckier I became. I was earning twice what I was before but was working twelve-hour days. It’s not well-known, but the week we started Gabbett machinery, John Cover and Jake Martin started Allwood machinery. I didn’t know them then and only met them several months later but we’ve become friends and still get together from time to time.”

After six months selling second-hand machinery Brian Maher called Barry and asked if he could join the company. Brian had been with Barry at Austral selling Wadkin moulders. Brian was really  instrumental in Gabbett’s success and the business started to really take off as soon as he joined. They moved from Barry’s house to a very small factory, then half of someone else’s factory and then a property they occupied for eight years in Seven Hills. A few television producers went off-shore around this time and Barry and Brian were able to get their hands on some wood working machines at a good price. They discovered that depending of the economy of each state; they could buy in Sydney and sell to Melbourne. A few months later they might be buying in Melbourne and selling to Brisbane.

The business enjoyed continued success so a branch in Adelaide was followed by one in Brisbane and then Melbourne. The built the present premises in King’s Park in 1989 and a few years later the present building in Melbourne. Each year they progressed a little bit more and one year the opportunity arose to buy Fletcher Machinery and this started them off in Perth. They were selling SCM moulders then while Allwood were selling most of the other SCM product. When Allwood started selling the Biesse product, Barry was able to take the over Morbidelli brand. Barry’s venture into the New Zealand market happened around this time.

Barry’s and Elaine have three children; Kara, Lee and Cassie and it was Lee who was to take a leading role in the family company. After completing an engineering course and selling industrial  pumps, Lee joined Gabbett Machinery at the bottom; sweeping floors and putting machines together. In sales for around ten years, Lee became second in charge when Brian Maher retired. Lee’s impact on the company has been significant and his ability to get the right SCM equipment for Australian manufacturers, even if it has to be designed specifically for our market, is notable. When Gabbett became SCM Australia in 2016 the directors in Italy wanted either Barry; or Lee to continue to head the new company should Barry wish to take a back seat.

In the early 2000’s Gabbett took on the entire SCM product range and it’s been that way ever since. SCM make more machines than any other producer in the World and over the years have bought twenty other companies to expand their product to cover the entire wood working spectrum. Since Gabbett Machinery became SCM Australia in 2016, sales increases have doubled expectations and the company is in a very solid position as one of the three major suppliers in Australia. Barry says he is very proud to have the agency and has worked very hard to build their success in this Country. “All I want to see is a very successful company that’s the best competitor in our market and that everyone who works here today is still here as long as they want.

”You could say that Barry’s greatest success is his people and while salespersons and technicians have come to Gabbett from other suppliers over the years, it’s also true that many of the people now with other dealers did their ‘apprenticeship’ at Gabbett machinery. One of Barry’s great successes was to bring to Australia many really good technicians from the parent Scm Group in Rimini, Italy. Barry says “If there was ever a good reason for the 457 visa, this is it. They were all very talented people.” SCM Italy was losing good technicians but they supported Barry’s initiative fully. SCM brand’s strength in Australia was built on the notion that the best technicians lead to the best service. Barry admits that service is always an issue in a country this size, but Allwood’s John Cover said as much many times.

As Gabbett Machinery; Barry and his crew won SCM’s “International Dealer of the Year” several times. Being the only dealer on the continent they did have an advantage but they sold a lot of machines. Many wood workers will remember learning on the L’invincibile machines in trade school and these are still on the market today. Gabbett’s success led to talks between SCM Italy to form SCM Australia. Barry says “We were ninety percent there when September 2007 came around and the GFC stopped most companies in their tracks.” But not Barry; while other suppliers were closing branches and laying off people, Barry pushed ahead and while he freely admits it might not have been the wisest business decision, the company and the people meant a lot more to him than mere dollars and cents.

Throughout his career Barry maintained his integrity. He says “We were smart enough to make a dollar but we always left something in the deal for the customer.” He recognises the success of Gabbett machinery as being a product of his people; his ‘family’ and was due in great part through the efforts of Brian Maher who retired a few years ago now. Barry gets together with his people every year and employees from ten years ago still come along for the event. At home Barry has three children and six grandchildren but his ‘extended’ family runs into the thousands. Barry Gabbett will always be remembered for his company; his people and the way he conducted business. He is an honourable man and deals with honourable people, a sentiment he holds for the Scm Group world-wide.